End of Financial Year Parties: Minimising risk for employer and employee

End of Financial Year Parties: Minimising risk for employer and employee

With End of Financial Year Parties around the corner, are you prepared for the risks associated with providing alcohol at work-related functio

The End of Financial Year is fast approaching, and for many employers and employees, this means celebrating many months of hard work.  Many employers are eager to offer social activities and End of Financial Year parties can be a good way of providing staff with a reward.  However, end of financial year parties are not without risk, particularly where alcohol is involved, and careful management is required to ensure employer and employee risks are minimised.

A recent case example has highlighted the risks associated with holding workplace events, and this particular case concerned a Christmas party gone wrong and subsequent dismissal of an employee.

The employer had organised a day of go-karting followed by a Christmas party at the employer’s premises, which had a swimming pool.  The employer provided alcohol (with no control over how much one chose to drink), soft drinks and food.  Evidence indicated that the employee in question was inebriated and that on a number of occasions aggressively poked or pushed another employee, haranguing him, and ultimately pushed him into the pool.

The employee had already been told by the General Manager that he should go home (which he refused to do), and following this incident, he was again told to leave the premises and go home, with the General Manager likely telling the employee to “f*** off”.  The employee responded by saying “you f*** off”.  The employee and General Manager then got into a fight.  The employee’s employment was terminated and the Fair Work Commission ultimately found that there was a valid reason for dismissal and that the termination was not otherwise harsh, unjust or unreasonable.

Importantly, the Fair Work Commission noted that “whilst in some circumstances an employer that provides alcohol at a work function and takes no steps to ensure it is consumed responsibly may be culpable for events attributable to the consumption of alcohol, such as a drunken employee being injured falling down stairs, employees who drink will also be held responsible for their own actions”.  In our view, a risk still exists that employers may be culpable for employees’ actions where alcohol is provided at a work function.  Fortunately, in the above case no one was seriously injured by the employee’s conduct, although it is easy to see the potential for serious injury to occur.

As such, it is important to take action to help minimise these risks.  Below are some tips that may help you to minimise your risks, although each event must be considered in all of the circumstances, and risk can never be entirely eliminated:

  1. Make sure your policies and procedures are up to date – Now is a great time to make sure that your policies and procedures are up to date, ahead of our next tip;
  2. Provide your employees with refresher training on key policies – including discrimination, bullying, sexual harassment and consumption of drugs and alcohol, including at work-related functions, to ensure employees are aware of your expectations of their behaviour;
  3. Consider arranging travel to and/or from the venue;
  4. Limit the amount of alcohol being served. Offering self-service alcohol can be risky  business, not only increasing the risk of inappropriate alcohol-fuelled behaviour, but potentially increasing your risk of liability;
  5. If you have employees working the day after an event, consider their ability to do so, particularly if they work in safety-critical positions; and
  6. Investigate any complaints promptly and appropriately.


The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter.  Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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